The New York Ripper is without a doubt one of Italian maestro Lucio Fulci’s most brutal, controversial films. It has the same structure and setup as a gialli, but is very different from what we typically consider a movie of that type to be. It’s still about a largely unseen killer picking of young women one-by-one, same premise as most giallo features as well as the American slashers that were becoming popular at the time.
But there are other styles at work in New York Ripper that almost make it an entirely different beast. It’s as mean-spirited and unrelenting as Fulci’s more supernatural films like City of the Living Dead or The Beyond. It combines the giallo/slasher structure with the more torturous visuals of the ‘70s. At the same time, it brings a heavy level of New York sleaze.
That’s honestly one of its greatest strengths. Usually Italian films set in the USA don’t really hold up to the reality of their setting. As great as City of the Living Dead is, it has only a vague concept of New England, at best. But that’s not the case with this one. This movie is drenched in New York atmosphere and most of it seems authentic. Part of that is due to the fact that it’s made with a tourist’s eye. The lack of deep, everyday familiarity with the location actually proves to be a benefit.
It’s like the most perverse walking tour of New York that one could take. Part of that definitely stems from the authenticity of actually shooting on location in New York. Instead of taking or even observing the Staten Island Ferry, Fulci and Co. just looked at the same things and said “Okay, let’s kill someone here, and here, and here…”
For the most part, New York Ripper feels more like a slasher than the traditional giallo. But it does the one thing that American slashers really don’t do: it doesn’t hold back. It doesn’t cut away. Slashers feature large body counts but they’re not necessarily known to be disturbing because the violence is so quick. The audience is just along for the ride, they’re having a good time. They’re not actually there to be made too uncomfortable. Maybe a squeamish death that comes out of nowhere and is gone in a second, just to get them to make noise in the theater.
Here we have the same build-up, but the camera lingers. It stays on the violence as long as it possibly can. And the bloodshed only increases. One cut looks disturbing, the next cut may be twice as intense. It’s sleazy, grimy, all of which kind of helps it to be the portrayal of New York that it’s trying to be. New York Ripper is almost a direct cross between Tenebre and Maniac.
But it goes further than both. That’s where it carves out its own niche for itself. As iron a stomach as I have and as much as I can stand when it comes to on-screen carnage, there are moments in New York Ripper that I just can’t look at it. Even for me, they’re too much. I could never rewatch this as often as I watch Tenebre or Deep Red.
The mean-spirited, unrelenting, sleazy tone and style are what make New York Ripper so different from other giallo films. This one is just full of uncomfortable scenes, from breasts and eyes being subjected to razor blades to a woman being molested by a man’s big toe.
These scenes are often extremely uncomfortable to watch. A feature about a voyeuristic killer, it often feels completely voyeuristic itself. On that level, I understand the intent and kind of even admire it. Most slashers and gialli often directly put you in the killer’s POV at numerous points. Others, like Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, are told from the murderer’s perspective.
New York Ripper is something of an interesting combination of the two. It does not show you the killer, for the most part, but is as violent and unrelenting as a film in which you’d be watching through the killer’s eyes. All of that comes down to the style.
New York Ripper is putting the viewer in the killer’s POV, but not in any kind of traditional way. We’re not seeing through the killer’s eyes and the story is not being told from his perspective. Instead, the entire film is designed to look and feel the way that he sees and interacts with the world. It’s a POV that’s completely established by cinematography and tone.
Because of that, New York Ripper is honestly one of Fulci’s most fascinating works. It’s hard to stomach and often unbearable to watch, but is a genuinely interesting, uniquely crafted movie at the same time.